Looking for a new gun dog or duck dog? 4 ways to stack the odds in your favor
If you are in the market for a new hunting dog, you know how overwhelming the search for a puppy can be. Many people start their search with good intentions. They want to find a good quality pup that will serve as a hunting companion as well as a family dog. However, somewhere along the way they end up just picking up a cute puppy that the family could not resist.
Can this ‘cute’ puppy become an excellent hunting dog and great family dog? Maybe, but it is a needle-in-the-haystack approach. While there is no guarantee that any puppy you bring home is going to grow into a well-mannered hunting partner, there are ways to stack the odds in your favor.
If you already have a puppy and want to give him or her the best start in life, increasing the odds he/she will become all they were born to be, read Raising a lab puppy to be a duck or gun dog.
Today, we are going to discuss the process I go through when looking for a new puppy. These are my opinions, so take it for what it is worth, but I do have extensive experience buying Labrador puppies. Our business buys a few dogs each year that we train to be hunting and/or competition dogs. I have been doing this for over 30 years and I rarely have a puppy that does not work out.
1. Research puppy litters
I buy my puppies based on pedigree. I want proven working parents. This means that I want to see that either the mom or dad, preferably both, have AKC retriever field trial titles, AKC retriever hunting test titles or UKC retriever hunting test titles behind their names on an official pedigree. Be sure you see field trial or hunt test titles. Sometimes you will see AKC show titles or other titles like agility. These are NOT the same as field trial or hunt test titles and are generally not something you want to see on the pedigree of a hunting or competition dog.
There are many places to search for litters on the internet. And many sites offer the ability to limit your search by state. However, do not be afraid to look for puppies further away from you. If the litter has a great pedigree and is exactly what you are looking for, you can always have the puppy flown or shipped to you.
Some of the sites that are good for looking for litters are:
Some of the places I would NOT suggest looking for puppies is local or trade papers, flea markets, garage sales and parking lots. Again, I am not saying that great dogs cannot come out of these places but rather that the odds are not in your favor.
Why are hunting titles important?
Hunting titles tell you that the dog has proven its ability to perform at a certain level. It also tells you that the genetics are there. If the parents can perform at a Field Champion or Master Hunter level, there is a good chance the puppies will also have that ability.
Do all your research prior to going to look at the puppies
Everybody loves puppies. They are cute, cuddly and so lovable. That is why I recommend that you do not ever go look at a litter that does not already meet your standards regarding pedigree. It is just too easy to end up bringing one home. And if you have kids or a spouse involved, I guarantee that any litter you go look at you are most certainly going to end up bringing home a puppy.
Does color make a difference?
There are three colors of Labrador Retrievers recognize by the American Kennel Club (AKC) – black, yellow, and chocolate. Well-bred puppies are available in each of these colors, and we have trained excellent hunting dogs in each color. However, you may now see litters advertised as fox red or white. These colors are not recognized by the AKC and you should beware of purchasing a dog based solely on color.
In addition, there are now Labs being sold as silver, charcoal and champaign. These litters are technically not pure Labrador Retrievers. They are often referred to as dilutes because the genetics have been diluted to produce these colors. Many trainers will not train dilutes because of the many health problems and genetic issues that go along with these breeds.
There are, unfortunately, people breeding pups specifically to produce a specific color without regard for temperament and the betterment of the breed. We prefer to stay away from litters that do not have a proven pedigree and have been breed specifically for color. In addition, our experience training dogs from these types of litters has proven to be a struggle.
How much does a good puppy cost?
For many people this is a defining question. Purchasing a well-pedigreed litter can cost anywhere from $800 – $2000 or more per puppy. Most of the puppies we purchase here at Otter Tail Kennels run around $1000 – $1200 per puppy. So, a new hunting partner can be a significant investment. But for us it is worth it to stack the odds in our favor.
2. Find a great retriever breeder
Unfortunately, not all breeders are equal. Over the years, some breeders have stood out to us as exceptional. They go over and beyond just taking good care of the puppies. You can tell they really want their puppies to turn out great and they take steps, while the pups are very young, to help ensure their puppies have a good strong foundation that will help them succeed in the future.
Beyond the breeding of quality dogs, the difference is in the socialization of the puppies. As I talk extensively about in Raising a Lab puppy to be a duck or gun dog, socialization is an essential key component in training a retriever puppy. Breeders that go out of their way to socialize young pups are worth their weight in gold. Some of the great socialization techniques we have seen breeders use include:
- Having separate spaces and ground textures in the puppy pens
- Having hunting shows playing on televisions above or near the puppy pens
- Outdoor pens with children’s play structures for pups to go in, out, on top and under
- Introducing young pups to pigeon wings, children, and small swimming pools
Many clients have asked us why we don’t breed. The truth is that raising puppies, done the right way, takes a lot of time and commitment. We specialize in training and prefer to let others specialize in doing a great job raising litters.
3. Ask prospective breeder the right questions
When you call and talk to a breeder about an upcoming litter, it is important to get answers to some important questions. Here are a few of the questions you should generally ask:
Can I see the mom and dad’s pedigree?
If the pedigrees are not available online, be sure and request one from the breeder. Beware of breeders that say, “I have never competed the mom but I’m sure she could pass a hunt test.” Or, “I don’t hunt, but I am sure the dad would be a great hunter.” You want to know that the parents have the ability to do what you are going to need them to do, not guess.
How often do you breed? How often has this mother been bred?
When looking for a great hunting dog puppy, you want to avoid puppy mills. Puppy mills are breeders that are just pumping out puppies for money and without concern to the overall health and betterment of the breed. Responsible breeders have a plan for the litters they are producing and will be able to talk to you about why the litter is worth the money they are asking.
What breeds do you breed?
Look for a breeder that specializes in Labrador Retrievers or whatever breed you are looking to purchase. In addition, if you are looking to buy a retriever for hunting, don’t look at a breeder that is breeding show dogs or companion dogs, find one that is breeding working dogs and wants their dogs to work.
What does your health guarantee cover?
Responsible breeders will offer you a health guarantee for the puppy. While what this guarantee covers may vary, with Labrador Retrievers some of the things you want to make sure the health guarantee covers includes:
- Hip dysplasia
- Eye issues
In addition, you may want to make sure that the parents have been genetically tested for other genetic diseases such as Exercise Induced Collapse (EIC) and Centronuclear Myopathy (CNM).
What do you do to socialize the puppies?
Asking this open-ended question can give breeders a chance to tell you about the work they do socializing the young pups before they are ready to go home. If the breeder doesn’t have an answer to this, it may be a concern. Or, you may want to follow up with more specific questions such as:
- Are the pups exposed to children at all?
- Do you take the pups to different locations during the day?
- Do the puppies get outside time, what does that look like?
The goal is to find out if the puppies are getting socialization and exposure to new and different things on a regular basis. Pups that get this exposure tend to adjust more quickly to their new homes and new situations later in life.
Have you done this specific breeding before? How did those puppies turn out?
Breeders that are working for the betterment of the breed, may breed a set of parents more than once. If this is a repeat breeding, it is likely that the breeder will know how previous litters performed in the field or in competition. Serious Labrador Retriever breeders often keep track of how their puppies perform as they age. Alternatively, you could ask for references and talk to previous buyers to find out what they think of the breeder and the puppy they bought.
Should I meet the prospective dog parents?
While some people might tell you that you should meet the prospective parents of the puppies, I do not see a lot of value in this. Some good breeders do not own both the parents. Often, they work with other breeders so both the Dam and Sire may not be onsite.
In addition, with today’s technology, you can get photos and videos of the parents so seeing them personally is not all that important. And if you are basing your pup purchase off pedigree first, as I would recommend, you already know the most important things about the parents.
If looks are important to you, then photos of the parents will show you what you need to know.
4. Choose a retriever puppy from the litter
Once you decide on a litter, the waiting begins. Ask the breeder to provide videos and photos of puppies as the grow. This is a great way to see the puppies progress and you can see some personality traits in the different pups.
If you did all the work in researching pedigree and breeders, you already have stacked the odds in your favor. You know that the litter is a good one and that the puppies have a good chance of turning out to be great hunting partners. This is important because it takes a lot of pressure off when it is time to pick the puppy from the litter.
When you do go to the breeder to pick your puppy, take a few minutes to observe the puppies. This will allow you to see some personality traits. Understand though that this is only one snapshot in time. The puppy that is active at this time, might have been sleeping right before you showed up. Or, the one that is sleepy may have been running around like crazy just minutes before.
At Otter Tail Kennels, we often look for a puppy that likes people. A puppy that chases a child around the yard or runs to the owner when they walk away is attractive to us because we want a people-centered dog instead of a dog that prefers to spend its time with litter mates. But this is not an exact science by any means. That is why we rely on the fact that we have done our homework and know the entire litter has promise.
Final thoughts on how to find a good Labrador puppy
Any time you set out to buy a puppy, you do not know how the journey will end. There are a lot of unknowns. You cannot tell for sure what the puppy will look like as an adult, and you cannot tell if they will be a great hunter or a great family dog. What you can do is stack the odds in your favor. Find a great litter from a great breeder and select a puppy from that litter.
Once you do that, you are on your way to having a great duck or gun dog. Then the next important step is to socialize, expose and train the puppy. Read how to do that here.
Have questions about finding a great retriever for your hunting and family needs? I am here to help! You can email me (email@example.com) or just give me a call (651-303-6459). I would be happy to discuss your goals for your retriever and tell you about the programs and services I offer.
Until next time happy retrieving.